In his comprehensive article, Nathan Vanderklippe reviews the historical relationship between North Korea and China, detailing the reasons why China appears to be distancing itself from its former close ally.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What are some of the underlying reasons for the current North Korean crisis?

New Terminology:

Geopolitical, tangible, reconciliation, status quo, skepticism

Materials Needed:

Globe article, Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

As the media report on the increased likelihood of a military conflict with North Korea that could involve nuclear weapons, students can benefit from a rudimentary lesson on the reasons for heightened global concern. The relationships among the key countries—China, North Korea, South Korea, the United States—are complex, as the attached article shows. For the purposes of this lesson, it will suffice that students know a few basic facts, which they can glean from the article, attached, and from your choice of articles from the Internet. Wikipedia may well be an appropriate choice in this case:

Students will work in groups for portions of two class periods. In the first period, they will be introduced to the assignment, form groups and task individual members of their group with specific research homework. In their second meeting, the groups will assemble their findings into a short written report for submission and to present to class orally.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion to determine what they may already know about the recent tensions involving North Korea. Ask:

  • Which country is currently threatening nuclear war on its enemies? (North Korea)
  • Who is the leader of North Korea? How did he become leader? (Kim Jong Un; by being born the son of Kim Jung Il)
  • What actions has North Korea undertaken recently that have raised world tension? (Tested long-range missiles; threatened war with the US)
  • How has President Trump responded to these threats? (He told Kim Jong Un to “behave,” and he sent a US aircraft carrier battle group to the region)

Organize students into groups. Provide them with the Globe article and your preferred Internet links, along with this work sheet:

Work Sheet

Using the article and links provided, you are to produce a one-page report that answers the questions listed below the following instructions.

First, choose a group leader and assign two students with reading and summarizing the attached article. They are to answer the questions related to North Korea’s relationship with China, below.

Next, task your remaining group members with researching answers to the questions about the history of North Korea. They are to complete their work for homework. In the next class—or, as your teacher assigns—you are to use the accumulated work to answer the questions, below:


Re: China

  • Under what circumstances did China become a “brother” to North Korea?
  • Did China provide North Korea with nuclear capability? Why or why not?
  • Why is China reconsidering its support of North Korea now? Consider economics as well as politics in your answer.
  • What does President Xi of China think of the current leader of North Korea?

Re: Recent history of Korea

  • Describe North Korea’s current system of government in terms of its type: democracy, autocracy, communist, or any combination thereof.
  • Describe North Korea’s economy:
    • Is it considered a poor or rich country?
    • From which country does it receive most of its imports?
  • Describe the 1950 war:
    • Who started it?
    • Which countries became involved?
    • How many Chinese and North Korean casualties resulted?
    • Has peace ever been declared?
  • Are Hyundai automobiles, Samsung appliances and electronics produced by North Korea or by South Korea?
  • North Korea is working on producing nuclear weapons.
    • Has it tested any so far?
    • If so, how many tests in all?
  • North Korea is conducting missile tests.
    • What is the farthest these missiles have travelled so far?
    • Is North Korea capable of delivering a nuclear warhead via a ballistic missile?
  • What kinds of conventional weapons (artillery, air force) does North Korea have and where are these weapons concentrated?
  • If North Korea were attacked by the United States, which South Korean city would be most threatened by North Korea? Approximately how many South Korean and other casualties could result from conventional attack by the North?
  • How has President Trump changed US policy regarding North Korea, if at all?
  • Finally, how do you think the confrontation between North Korea and the rest of the world will end? Give reasons for your best guess.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Following completion of the group work, students present and discuss their findings with the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can explain, in general terms, the current crisis involving North Korea.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on events or media reports on developments in the North Korean crisis.